I found the ‘Atheist buses‘ strangely comforting – although with their jolly slogan declaring “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”, it’s probably more accurate to call them agnostic buses.
I lost my faith in organised religion a couple of years ago, at the same time taking up a fairly agnostic position on God’s existence. As a scientist, I don’t see any hard evidence for his/her/it’s existence, although I do see a fair amount stacking up on the “no God” side. And until the case is proved either way, I don’t really care.
Now the person who brought you the bus campaign, writer Ariane Sherine, brings you the Atheist’s Guide to Christmas (£7.99 or less from Amazon).
It’s a collection of writings from the great and the godless, ranging from the likes of Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and Charlie Brooker to the relatively unknown comedienne Catie Wilkins (my new comedy-girl-crush) and Graham Nunn (the bedroom designer responsible for the original bus logo).
But is it any good?
It’s certainly highly readable, and I tore through it on a long journey up to Scotland – the benefit of big print on small pages. And many of the contributions are funny, sentimental and/or thought-provoking.
Dawkins provides a vignette set in a old bufty’s London Club, with the barman dispensing metaphysics, and there are fond reminiscences of Christmases past from people brought up godless, as well as lapsed Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews.
I particularly enjoyed the Science section, with musings from Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Bad Scientist Ben Goldacre and others. There’s a great piece from my new hot-science-crush Adam Rutherford entitled “The Ironed Trouser – why 93 per cent of scientists are atheists”.
And if you want a really amazing story, forget the virgin birth, three kings and all that, and read the chapters about the awesomeness of the universe and (as Simon Singh recommends) tune in a radio to hear the static hum left over from the Big Bang.
Some contributions are a bit of a let-down. Charlie Brooker’s effort is a mere pocket-sized polemic that could have offered much more of his trademark spite. The pastiche-y story from the editors of the New Humanist falls a bit flat, and Anna Pickard’s alternative carols are just naff and childish. Plus there are a few chapters at the back that feel a bit like Sherine letting her mates get a plug for their ventures, to pad out the hardback.
These are minor gripes, though. The content is interesting and readable (although a firmer and more pedantic hand with the editing might have helped in some cases) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even read the potted biographies at the back, though that might have been because I was stuck on a plane with nothing else for company except the EasyJet in-flight magazine.
However, I think the main problem with this book is that atheism is not a religion (well, duh!). There are no tenets to adhere to – it’s just people living their lives in the way they want, influenced by culture, traditions and their own moral compass. So The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas does suffer slightly from the smug intellectualism of white middle-class liberal Christian-bashing.
As Robin Ince points out in his piece, it was all fine and dandy to put on ‘9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People’ last Christmas (I played in the orchestra – he mentions us!) – but he wouldn’t get away with a rational Ramadan. It’s fun for the writers to take potshots at Christianity and Judaism, but I doubt that Sherine will be bringing out a “There’s probably no Allah” bus or book any time in the future.
Overall, I enjoyed The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, and will probably be buying a few copies as presents this year. Profits from the book are going to Terence Higgins Trust, so all in all it’s a jolly good thing. Deck the halls, raise a toast, and spread a little rationalism this year.